If Preventive Pc Care Fails, There's Help

Thursday, January 04, 2007

We know that computers sometimes abruptly quit, slow down, refuse to cooperate or have any number of other problems, and they tend to break down at just the wrong moment.

Most of us also know there are maintenance programs designed to help prevent such breakdowns. But do we actually buy them and use them? Of course, if you work in an office with tech support, you can probably get help with your computer problems, but if you also have a computer at home, its maintenance and repair issues belong to you.

My mission today is to persuade you to take a few basic steps while your computer is healthy to monitor and maintain its good health.

First task is to do basic housecleaning on your computer. Uninstall programs you never use and trash old files you no longer need, for example, and update the software you use regularly.

Next task is to get a reputable software suite of programs that can monitor your system and keep it functioning well. It's sort of like having a physical exam with various tests and accompanying remedies to keep your body healthy.

Two popular choices that can help keep PCs healthy are Mc- Afee Total Protection (PC, $60 a year) and Norton SystemWorks (PC, $70 a year).

Total Protection is designed to keep a PC healthy and secure. It can protect you from intruders, identity theft, spam and predators, as well as keep the system free from viruses, hackers and spyware.

SystemWorks 2006 protects the computer from viruses, spyware and other threats, restores the computer from system crashes, removes clutter, fixes problems and optimizes performance.

For my Macintosh, however, I recently started using Micromat TechTool Pro ($98), which also diagnoses problems, fixes them and generally watches over the system.

After installing the software, I decided to do a complete diagnostic check of my system. Some of the tests can be done with the installed software, including those that check the cache, clock, main memory, network, processor, and other components.

To do a full system check as well as fix detected problems, however, I needed to start the computer from the TechTool Pro disc, so it could examine how well the computer is functioning from the "outside." With the TechTool Pro disc running the computer, I went through the standard diagnostic tests, and the results indicated my Mac was healthy.

My next step was to defragment and optimize the hard drive.

Defragmenting is said to be particularly important for those of us who work with multimedia files to keep the audio and video running smoothly.

Optimizing rearranges and groups data that have been saved in different places on the hard drive and consolidates the free space.

It's kind of like organizing all the papers and folders in a file cabinet.

I started the defragment/ optimize function just before lunch, and it took until dinnertime for the optimizer to finish the job. Next time, I'll have TechTool Pro do the job at night while I'm asleep.

Still, there's a chance that something will go very wrong with my computer, even if I maintain it with TechTool Pro, or any other reputable maintenance program.

When I do have problems with my Mac (that neither the system's Disk Utility software, or TechTool Pro can fix), I either call the AppleCare help phone number (I've paid for this ongoing product support), take the ailing piece of technology to the Apple store, or bring it to another computer store that does repairs.

Other possibilities include contacting the Geek Squad, Rescuecom and HelpMeRemote. I haven't yet tried any of these but can describe what they offer, mainly for PC users.

The Geek Squad (www.geeksquad.com) announces on its welcome page that its agents will fix any PC problem anytime, anywhere. Besides middle-of-the-night disasters, it can help with installations, upgrades, repairs, spyware, viruses and more. Plus, they're also willing to give lessons on how to use the technology you just got and can't figure out yourself.

Geek Squad has more than 700 locations nationwide, including Sacramento. Flat rates depend on the size and scope of the repair, and whether you have an agent come to your home or office, take the computer to a Geek Squad location or get help via the Internet.

Rescuecom (www.rescuecom.com), available in Sacramento, prides itself in being able to get to your house or office within an hour for emergency repairs. The Web site does not display pricing but offers a variety of ways to contact a repair person.

HelpMeRemote (www.helpmeremote.com) is an Internet repair service that fixes problems by having the PC owner remotely yield control of the PC to the repair person who can then diagnose and fix problems.

Click to the Web site, register, choose a payment plan, and describe the problem and service you want. Your PC is then remotely connected to the assistance center to run diagnostic tests, make repairs, check and update your virus protection, and whatever else is needed.

Service costs run from $30 for 15 minutes to $75 for 45 minutes.

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